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Archive for July, 2010

  • Points Earned:  2
  • Trip Dates:  July 16-18, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Never Summer
  • Wilderness Size:  21,090 acres
  • Wilderness Location:  North Central Colorado
  • Trail Distance:  17 Miles
  • Elevation Gain:  Approx. 2,000 feet
  • Duration:  2 nights
  • Destination:  Baker Pass and Parika Lake via S. Fork Michigan TH
  • Wildlife spotted:  Several adult moose

A moose skull and antler near the campsite

The sun had set and the light in the valley was dimming.  I was setting up camp and stopped to look out across the meadow while there was still light enough to see.  Two huge black moose heads stared back at me less than 100 yards away.  The two bulls were lying in the willows, just watching this strange bi-ped creature stammer around gathering sticks.  The moose were like statues, almost unreal in their stillness.  In the trees a few yards behind the two kings were three more moose–another bull and two cows.

After they realised that I finally spotted them, they all stood up and began grazing.  Looking up at me every now and then, as the daylight continued to fade, they moved  right towards my new campsite.  Dozer, his leash secured, stared curiously at the approaching beasts.

The group moved within 40 yards of my campsite as Dozer and I looked nervously on.  They were huge magnificent animals.  And, they were just a little too close for comfort.  As dusk enveloped the mountains, the moose continued their gradual move up-valley where Dozer and I were headed in the morning.

Moose, as I’ve heard many times before, can be very dangerous.  Many wildlife experts even make the claim that moose are more dangerous than grizzly bears.  I don’t know about that, but dangerous is dangerous, and I intended to keep my distance, especially with a dog in tow.

So, the next morning, as we began our hike on Day-Two, I scanned the meadowy valley closely for those big fellas I knew were there somewhere.  It wasn’t long before I spotted two of them, safely distant on the opposite side of the valley.  I felt at ease and proceeded, figuring that the other three would likely be near those two, just like they were last night.

A few minutes later, Dozer and I rounded a stand of tall spruce trees on the edge of the meadow, and… There… He… Was.  Not 30 yards ahead, a huge bull moose stood squared up with us, staring straight into my eyes.  He didn’t budge.  For a few of seconds there was a stand-off.  The big bull said all he needed to say with his massive unmoving presence: “I’m over 1,000 pounds… I’m not moving for you, and you had better NOT get any closer.”

I held Dozer’s leash extra tight, and somehow he seemed to know not to bark like he normally would.  We slowly made a very wide left turn into the trees to give the big bull his space.  As we made our nervous bushwhack away from the trail, over and under fallen trees, we spotted another moose farther up.  This one was a cow (no calf, thank God) and was actually in the trees about 50 yards away.  It stood still, broadside to us.

I continued through the trees, keeping our distance and scanning the forest for more moose.  Only after having crawled and climbed through several hundred yards of thick timber did I feel comfortable coming back out into the open meadow and the trail.

This was the Never Summer Wilderness.  It is a place notorious for heavy winter snows and intense summer storms.  And, it is a place where huge beasts roam the valleys, not moving out of the way of a man and his dog.

The Never Summer Wilderness is not big–only about 20,000 acres.  But, it borders the northwest edge of Rocky Mountain National Park making it a part of a much larger wildland area.

It is wild, indeed.  The South Fork Michigan River trail is very lightly used and obviously not maintained.  It starts at the end of an extremely steep and rough four-wheel-drive road (I parked Redbeast in a turn-out about a mile before the end).

The steep and rough 4x4 road to the TH near where Redbeast was parked.

The trail is well defined in the forested areas, but it passes through a number of meadows where it is immediately lost in the grass and muck.  Only an occasional cairn or propped up post marks the way in the meadows.

A post marking the route where the trail has long since be reclaimed by meadow grasses

The views are not impressive at first, but gradually unfold as the upper sections of the high valley are reached.  First Mounts Howard and Cumulus appear.  Then, in a southern curve to the valley, the rugged north face of Mount Nimbus.

Mount Nimbus appears just over the tree tops

My plan was to hike in about 4 miles on Friday evening to near the head of the valley and set up a base camp.  Saturday would be a 9 mile (give or take) hike up and over Baker Pass, on to Parika Lake and then back to base camp with the short 4-mile return on Sunday.

We reached a nice spot on the edge of the meadows near the head of the valley at around sunset and were greeted by this group of grazing adult moose that wandered a bit closer to the tent than I would have liked:

Moose near the base camp site on the first night

Dozer snug in the tent enjoying the heat from a nice campfire (using an existing fire ring)

A view of the campsite Saturday morning

Saturday morning, after making our way well around and past the moose, we proceeded up Baker Pass.  A well-defined rock glacier graces the base of Mount Nimbus as the trail skirts just by it:

Dozer explores the edge of Mount Nimbus's rock glacier on the north slope of Baker Pass

After a relatively steep but short ascent, we were at the top of the pass enjoying grand views of the Never Summers to the north and south and of Rocky Mountain National Park to the east.  Dozer took the opportunity for a well-deserved rest at the top:

Dozer and my new Kelty pack at the top of Baker Pass

From the top of Baker Pass a faint trail angles to the southwest and skirts the ridge to a cirque about 3 miles distant where tiny Parika Lake rests peacefully right at timberline:

Parika Lake

Looking into the head of Baker Gulch on the trail to/from Parika Lake from Baker Pass

Parika Lake lies in a basin just below the high ridge with the snowfields on it in this picture. The trail generally follows the treeline to the lake.

A view into the distant peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park from the trail to/from Parika Lake from Baker Pass. The tall square-top mountain distant on the left is Longs Peak

The clouds were building by the time we reached the lake so we didn’t stay long.  But, in the 20 minutes or so we were there I caught 5 nice-sized brookies out of the lake!  There were a few people at the lake–the first people we came across on the trip so far.

Shortly after beginning our return from the lake, Dozer dissappeared behind a small knoll.  I figured he spotted a ground squirrel (he never catches them).  After a few moments he came running full blast back to me with a very surprised look and something strange stuck to his snout.  As he got closer I saw what it was–porcupine quills!  Damn dog.  He’s lucky he didn’t get it worse.  I’ve seen some pretty nasty pictures of dogs really getting quilled bad.  There were only 10 quils and Dozer took it like a champ as I pulled each one out by hand.

Dozer with a mess of porcupine quills in his snout

We made our way back over Baker Pass and down into the S. Fork Michigan River valley where, once again, the big moose were waiting for us.  This time, I had a good commanding view of the valley and the moose were on the other side.  They stared as we quietly made our way past them, a safe 100 yards or so away:

Two bull moose across valley from the trail on the way back to base camp

We made it back to camp in mid-afternoon allowing some time for lounging around and fishing in the creek.  The water was clear as air and looked good for fishing, but I’m convinced there were no trout in the stream in this area.  With no lake in the valley for fish to move downstream from, there could be a natural barrier (waterfall) preventing upstream movement of fish from below.  Still, a clear flowing mountain stream in a beautiful valley is always one of my favorite sights in the wilderness.

The crystal clear headwaters of the S. Fork Michigan River deep within the Never Summer Wilderness.

Dozer was beat dead tired after a long day of hiking and exploring in the high country:

Dozer passed out at the campsite after a 9 mile hike over Baker Pass, to Parika Lake and back the same way to base camp. A very tired doggy

We had a nice rain shower Saturday night and the friendly moose paid us a visit near the campsite again on Sunday morning.  We hung around just to enjoy the sunny valley for a while Sunday morning before finally packing up and heading out at about 11:00 for the relatively short 4 miles back to Redbeast.  Dozer was happy to be back and headed home.  It was a good trip.

Dozer lying down under Redbeast after returning on Sunday.

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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  July 13, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711 acres
  • Wilderness Location:  Colorado Front Range
  • Destination:  Arapaho Pass and Lake Dorothy
  • Total Distance:  6.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain:  Approximately 1,400 feet
  • Duration:  Day hike
  • Wildlife Spotted:  Numerous marmots, two pikas and a family of three foxes on the road returning from the hike.

Columbines in the alpine scenery of the Indian Peaks

“That can’t possibly be Lake Dorothy,” I thought to myself as Dozer and I peered over the west side of the Great Divide to a small shallow lake far below. “It’s too far down!”

I took my topo map back out of my pack and studied the area. “Aha! Lake Dorothy is higher than Arapaho Pass by a couple hundred feet.  No wonder I don’t see it, it’s above us!”

Once I figured out that Lake Dorothy was higher than the pass summit, I knew exactly where it was.  It was nestled in that rugged cirque to the south, just below 12,800 foot Mount Neva.  The lake far below was Caribou Lake.

This was my first true high alpine hike of the season, the snow having just recently melted away from the high forest above 10,500 feet.  One thing I tend to forget about the Indian Peaks is that they really can be a rugged and craggy range.  The vertical nature of this area surprised me once again!

The Arapaho Pass trail begins from the very popular Fourth of July Trailhead above Nederland.  As I pulled Redbeast into the trailhead parking lot I worried about the dark clouds building to the southwest.  Anyone who has spent any time in the Colorado high country in summer is familiar with the near daily afternoon thunderstorms.  But, what a lot of people don’t realize is that, even when these storms build up in early-to-mid afternoon, they often clear out by late afternoon leaving several hours of perfect weather.  I was hoping this would be the case as I laced up my boots because much of this hike is above timberline, and I don’t go above timberline when there is lighning in the vicinity if I can help it.

It didn’t look good at first.  Within minutes after I hit the trail, the rain drops began hitting my shoulders.  But, then, over the ridgeline to the southwest, a patch of blue appeared.  Then it grew larger, and before long the sky was clearing and there was nothing but blue sky and whispy high clouds all around.  The late afternoon clear-up would happen on this day, and Dozer and I would reach the pass!

This hike skirts the south-facing slope up the valley of Middle Boulder Creek.  Within a mile of the start, a substantial cascade is seen (and heard) on the opposite side of the valley:

Falls on the other side of the valley of Middle Boulder Creek

The trail to Diamond Lake soon branches off to the left as the Arapaho Pass trail continues to climb at a nice pace up the valley wall.  At near timberline, the trail gets a little less steep for a while as the views of the peaks around get more and more impressive.

In this area, the marmots began to be seen and heard.  They were everywhere–standing on rocks, waddling through the tundra, shouting their whistles as we got too close.  They seemed to pose for pictures only to turn and run away just before I could get a good shot.  See if you can spot the marmot in this picture:

Marmot on a rock

The trail resumed a bit of steepness for the final half-mile or so to the top of the pass.  The great thing about hiking to a pass is the view that you know will greet you when you get there.  A whole new world opened up to the west as we crested the Divide.  New jagged peaks in the west half of the Indian Peaks,  and vast new valleys and ranges in the distance appeared:

Looking northwest from the pass

Looking down almost 1,000 feet to Caribou Lake and its lush basin on the west slope of the Indian Peaks

My second destination on this hike, besides Arapaho Pass, was Lake Dorothy, which according to my map, was just a few hundred yards south of the pass.  Once I figured out that the lake was still a bit higher than the pass, I headed for what I knew was it’s alpine cradle–a high mountain cirque below the imposing face of Mount Neva:

Lake Dorothy is nestled below those snowfields just over the ridge

Dozer and I walked up the gently sloped ridge at 12,000 feet and finally reached the quiet mountain-protected lake:

Lake Dorothy

Despite the high popularity of this area, at 7:00 pm on a Tuesday evening, Dozer and I had the whole pass and lake to ourselves, and just enought daylight left to make it comfortably back down to the Jeep by dusk.

This hike reminded me how special the Indian Peaks area really is.  It is a blessing to have such a rugged and beautiful mountain sanctuary so close to home.

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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  July 5, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Lost Creek
  • Wilderness Size:  119,790 acres
  • Wilderness Location:  Central Colorado
  • Total Miles:  13
  • Elevation Gain:  1,800 out, approx 800 on return (approx 2,600 total)
  • Destination:  Lost Creek Tunnel near Refrigerator Gulch
  • Hike Duration:  Day Hike

Beautiful aspen grove with the rocks of the Lost Creek in the background

Every person has a different image of paradise.  For many it is a tropical white-sand beach.  For others, maybe it’s a clear blue lake surrounded by hills green with grass.  For me, paradise always seems to involve a deep pool in a cold clear mountain stream bathed in sunshine and framed by the colors and solitude of a mountain wilderness.  This is the type of paradise I always imagined might be found in the back corners of the Lost Creek Wilderness, and specifically along Lost Creek itself.

Ever since I learned of the mysteries of Lost Creek as a kid I wanted to find it.  I wanted to find the places where the stream dips in and out of the earth–under and out-from giant granite boulders.  I’ve had a vision in my mind of a perfectly clear stream emerging from the rocks into a blissful deep sun-drenchedwhirlpool.

I know reality almost never measures up to the perfection of fantasy.  Still, the mystery of the Lost Creek and the splendors to be found there weighed in my mind over the years.  On July 5th, 2010 I set out to put the mystery to bed and see the Lost Creek for myself.

Lost Creek is so named because it literally dissappears into the earth no less than nine times.  Each time it re-emerges anywhere from a couple hundred feet up to a quarter mile downstream.  Once the creek emerges for the last time, it’s name changes to Goose Creek.  There are no maintained trails that follow along the stream as it dips in and out of the granite earth.  For me, the difficulty in access only added to the mystery and challenge in finding it.

From my research, I found a place on the map called Refrigerator Gulch which is traversed by the McCurdy Park Trail, itself accessed from the popular Goose Creek Trail.  About a quarter-mile south of Refrigerator Gulch, as the crow flies, is Lost Creek and one of the first of its nine dives into the earth.  I figured if I could make it to Refrigerator Gulch, there must be a bushwhack or unnoficial hikers’ trail leading from there to the stream.  It would be a long dayhike – about 13 miles to be exact.  But, for a chance to find my paradise, it was worth a shot.

Access to the Goose Creek Trailhead requires a drive through the middle of the Hayman burn.  This arson-caused 2002 wildfire destroyed 138,000 acres of prime forest.  Although the beginnings of natural restoration are evident now, eight years later, the scale of the destruction must be acknowledged:

The immense Hayman Burn from the side of the road on the way to the Goose Creek Trailhead

Thanks to the Hayman Fire, the Goose Creek Trailhead is hot, dry, and not very pretty:

The start of the trail, still in the Hayman burn area

But, thankfully, the Hayman fire only grazed the beautiful flesh of the Lost Creek Wilderness.  Within a half-mile of the trailhead, the path enters a healthy, unburned, ponderosa forest, following along the refreshingly clear and cool waters of Goose Creek:

Looking down on a sun-drenched Goose Creek from the trail

A little more than a mile in, the trail breaks from its brief visit with the creek and begins a gradual climb along the slopes north of the stream.  Before long, both the sound and the sight of Goose Creek are nothing but a memories.  The attraction now becomes the increasingly dramatic geology.  Every few steps, it seemed, brought new geologic formations into view:  polished domes, teetering mansion-sized boulders, stabbing granite columns and more.  This is the essense of the Lost Creek Wilderness:

One of the many huge rock structures encountered. After a while, sights like this become commonplace in the Lost Creek Wilderness

The long trail continues on a generally upward path with some rolling ups-and-downs mixed in.  After about 5 miles and a final climb up to a ridge-top, the trail junction of Goose Creek and McCurdy Park trails are reached at about 9,450 feet in elevation:

The deep wilderness trail junction of Goose Creek and McCurdy Park trails

To get to Refrigerator Gulch and the dissappearing Lost Creek, you leave the Goose Creek Trail here and turn left onto the McCurdy Park Trail.

From the trail junction, the McCurdy Park Trail immediately begins a sizeable descent, and you can’t help but dread the knowledge of a significant climb out on the way back about eight miles into the hike.  But, nevermind that.  There’s a dissappearing river to find.

After a 500+ foot descent, Refrigerator Gulch is identified by a very nice aspen grove campsite:

A good campsite at Refrigerator Gulch six miles deep from the Goose Creek Trailhead

A sense of disappointment accompanied my arrival at Refrigerator Gulch.  I expected to hear the roars and echoes of a dissappearing river nearby.  But, there was nothing but the sound of a lazy woodpecker high up in an Aspen tree. 

But, I knew the creek was close, so I began to bushwhack to the south.  After a difficult couple hundred yards, I stumbled upon an unofficial hikers trail!  This must be it, I thought.  I followed as the trail climbed steeply up a small hill and then began to drop sharply down the other side.

As I came around a turn in the trail… There it was!  The cold clear waters of Lost Creek flowed gently out of a cave of giant piled boulders!  At the exit to the cave was what looked like a nice deep pool of gently flowing water.  And, on the edge of the stream was what appeared to be a gravel beach.  It wasn’t quite the image of perfection–nothing is.  But, it was close enough:

The first view of Lost Creek's emergence from the earth from the top of the hill

A closer view now of Lost Creek's exit from the mountain

As I walked closer still, I began to realize that I might be able to actuall walk into the tunnel!

To my complete elation, as I approached the stream’s exit from the mountain, I began to realize that the flow of the water was gentle enough, and the entrance large enough, that I could actually walk into the cave itself!  I walked into the darkness and into a huge underground room with a ceiling at least 50 feet high.  A shaft of light about 200 feet upstream indicated the tunnel entrance.  There was also a small opening straight up above:

From inside the passage, the shaft of light coming in from the entrence on the other end.

The small opening at the top of the "cave" letting in just a little light

Looking back to where I entered the cave from the inside

Re-emerging into the "surface world" after exploring the "underworld"

After exploring the tunnel, I decided to strip down and take a dip in the deep pool that was a few feet in front of the stream’s exit.  The water was icy, icy cold, but it was exceptionally refreshing.  After the swim, the warm sun was a quick dry and I felt invigorated.

It was close to 5:30 after my cave exploration and swim, and I had a 6.5 mile return to the trailhead, so I laced back up and started hucking back along the trail.  The 500-foot plus climb back out of Refrigerator Gulch was every bit as draining as I expected it to be, but it felt great to get back up to the Goose Creek-McCurdy Trail junction at the top of the ridge.  From the trail junction, it would be a relatively easy, but weary, 5 mile trek back to the car. 

Along the way back I stopped here and there to admire the incredible geology of the area in the low evening light.  About half way back I looked out into the rock outcroppings and noticed a single “small” round boulder, about the size of a dump truck, that was delicately perched on the top of a large granite dome.  I thought to myself, “how in the heck does that happen?” I tend to believe in the scientific explanations of nature:  weather and erosion combined with the turmoil of plate techtonics and the slow passage of time itself createsthe fantastic features of our mountains.  But, sights like that round boulder just sitting on top of that dome rock get me to thinking about what it is that is really behind those forces of nature.  The boulder appeared to have been carefully placed there between the thumb and forefinger of a huge devine hand:

Look at the round boulder right in the center of this picture, perched right atop the dome rocke structure

I had not hiked this far in a single day since I was a sophmore in college 15 years ago.  While I was quite pleased that I handled it easily, the last couple miles on the return seemed to drag on forever.  I was ready for this phenomenal day hike to be over.  I finally arrived back at the trailhead at dusk in the eerie burned out part of the forest:

A sky ablaze looms over a charred landscape of burned out trees near the trailhead on the return, making for quite a contrast with the sights encountered on this great 13 mile day hike

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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  July 1, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711 acres
  • Location:  Front Range, Colorado
  • Hike Destination:  Meadow Mtn. Summit (stopped short by weather)
  • Hike Duration:  Day Hike
  • Total Hike Distance:  6.25 miles
  • Elevation Differential:  2,200 feet

Cascade on Rock Creek

This hike is proof that, even in one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the West (the east half of Indian Peaks), pure solitude is still readily available with a little creativity in location and timing.

From my maps and research I found an unmaintained trail that enters the extreme northeast corner of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  The trail begins at the end of a rough 4-wheel drive road (Road 116.2 from Allenspark) and imediately enters the wilderness to eventually meet up with the maintained, but still relatively lightly used, St. Vrain Mountain Trail.

Even though I drive a Jeep, I decided to stop and walk the final 2 miles of the jeep road to the end.  This road is quite steep and rocky.  I parked at about 8,800 feet in elevation, and the two remaining miles of the road took me up to well over 10,000 feet:

Rocky Road 116.2

A bizarre sight along the road was this single dining room style chair.  I thought maybe I saw the ghost of Enos Mills sitting in it, but couldn’t be sure!

The scary chair by the 4x4 road

The road finally ended at the top of a ridge.  On the other side was the Middle St. Vrain Valley and I could hear the rush of the water from over 1,000 feet up!

At the end of the road, the unmaintained trail continued into what I knew was the Indian Peaks Wilderness, although there was no sign marking the boundary.  There were no other people there at all.

Dozer and I encountered a rather large and disgruntled porcupine near the trail.  It was a good thing I decided to keep the dog on the leash because he desperately wanted to chase it.  I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of it before it waddled under some bushes and dissappeared.

The faint trail continued steeply until, at near timberline, snow was encountered adding some additional routefinding challenge:

Dozer having a blast in the summer snow

A recent elk track in the snow

My intention was to climb to the top of 11,600-foot Meadow Mountain which sits just barely inside the southern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.  But, when I reached timberline at about 11,000 feet, the clouds were darkening and thunder was rumbling over the ridge.  I deliberated for a minute or two.  The gentle ridgeline to the summit was enticingly close.  But, in the end, I made the right decision.  I turned around and went back into the forest, leaving Meadow Mountain for another day:

The gentle slope to the top of Meadow Mountain from near my turn-around point

A rather expertly constructed cairn marked my turn-around point. Dark clouds are visible over the ridge

Dozer and Redbeast ready to go home

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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip date:  June 29, 2010
  • Wilderness area:  Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Wilderness size:  249,339 acres
  • Location:  Northern Colorado
  • Total miles:  4.2
  • Elevation differential:  1000 feet
  • Destination:  Gem Lake
  • Duration:  Day hike

Rock-bound Gem Lake

I had originally planned to hike up to Fox Creek Falls in the Commanche Peak Wilderness, but private property blocked access to where I thought there was a trailhead.  That’s what I get for relying on a 20-year-old forest service map.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  I drove back towards Estes Park and noticed a trailhead sign for a place called “Gem Lake.” Why not?  It turned out to be one of the coolest, most unique day hikes I’ve ever done!

The area to the north of Estes Park and just inside the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park offers an environment that is much different than most of the rest of the park.  While most of the park is characterized by high green valleys, soaring alpine peaks and cirque lakes, this area is more like the Lost Creek Wilderness southwest of Denver.  It is a bit lower in elevation and defined by huge rock formations–cliffs, overhangs, teetering boulders, etc…

Huge rock face near Gem Lake

From the trailhead, there are two ways to get to Gem Lake.  There is the direct route, which is only 1.8 miles.  Or, there is a longer approach that first goes to near the base of the Twin Owls and eventually reaches Gem Lake in about 2.4 miles.  I chose the longer route, but returning via the direct route, making for a nice little 4.2 mile loop.

The first attraction on this hike is the Twin Owls–two giant rocks separated by a narrow fissure that can take on the resemblence of two stoic owls overlooking their valley below.  There are a number of climbing routes on the Twin Owls.  Climbing route names include Upper Owls, Lower Owls, and, my favorite, Bowels of the Owls:

The Twin Owls

After approaching The Owls, the trail makes a turn towards the north or northeast for a long stretch of consistent uphill.  New boulders, cliffs and strange rock outcroppings come into view one after the other.  If you need a reminder that you are actually in Rocky Mountain National Park, just look southwest across the valley to impressive views of Longs Peak and its surroundings:

View to higher peaks over the peculiar rocks of the Gem Lake area

As I was looking back across the valley, I noticed the presence of the north Twin Sister.  The Twin Sisters are a priminent feature of the Front Range when viewed from the flatlands to the east, and they are part of Rocky Mountain National Park.  I suddenly remembered that I had climbed the North Twin Sister in 2007 and forgot to count it on this blog or put up a trip report on it.  Rather than create a separate trip report, I will just add the following information and include the mileage in my stats page:

The Twin Sisters trail is 7.2 miles round trip with an elevation gain of approximately 2,500 feet.  Most of the trail is a monotonous series of switch-backs with increasingly good views to the west of Longs Peak.  It gets much more interesting over the last half mile or so as the treeline is reached and the trail makes a final turn to the right and to the summit at around 11,500 feet.  I encountered the largest community of marmots I’ve ever seen right at the summit!  The views from the top of North Twin Sister are quite impressive with completely unimpeded sights over the eastern planes, and a close-up view of Longs in the other direction.

Back to the Gem Lake trail:  As the trail gets closer to the lake it only gets more interesting as now it cuts between those rock faces and gets a little steeper.  Dryish ponderosa forest is inturrupted here and there by green garden-like stretches with aspens and wildflowers:

A beautiful passage on the Gem Lake trail

One of the most interesting sights on this trail was a bizarre rock that I decided to call the Cyclops Boulder.  It has a naturally eroded, almost perfectly round, hole through the middle of it, and it is perched and shaped in such a way that it looks a little bit like a wierd one-eyed monster peering down at any hikers coming up the trail:

The Cyclops Boulder with its "eye" staring down on the trail below

A look through the eye of the Cyclops

Gem Lake arrives with a surprise as it is situated in the most unlikely setting.  Nothing more than a half-acre pond, it is nestled almost completely, it seems, in solid rock.  I’ve never seen a lake, or pond, quite like this one.  It was fantastic and yet slightly unnerving.  It seemed as though it shouldn’t be there, but it was:

Peculiar Gem Lake

Another angle on Gem Lake

I returned to the trailhead via the short 1.8 mile route feeling very fortunate, in a way, to have been unable to do the hike I had originally planned.  This one will go into my favorites list.

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